The Endangered Species Act (ESA) was signed into law 50 years ago by President Richard Nixon. It continues to be a powerful force in environmental protection—but for good or ill?
PERC, the Property and Environment Research Center, has published a special issue of its quarterly publication, PERC Reports, titled “Fifty Years of the Endangered Species Act.”
In the lead article, Case Western Reserve law professor Jonathan Adler gives a cogent description of the act’s history. Calling the ESA “arguably the most powerful and stringent federal environmental law on the books,” he expresses doubt that the law “has done much to achieve its central purpose: the conservation of endangered species.”
A few statistics:
- Slightly more than 100 species have been taken off the endangered (or threatened—a slightly less endangered category) species list.
- This is fewer than 5 percent of the species that are listed as endangered or threatened. In many cases delisting occurred because of errors in listing the species in the first place.
- Eleven species have gone extinct, and this month the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposed delisting 21 more due to extinction.
Somewhat sardonically, Adler says that the federal government can take credit for the revival of raptors (hawks and eagles). However, that is due to the banning of DDT, which had harmed raptors in particular. Yet the DDT ban took place in 1972, preceding the Endangered Species Act.
As Adler and other PERC authorities have said for many years, the ESA is a double-edged sword. Its “protection” regulations are often so onerous that they lead to resistance on the part of private individuals and landowners who could be protecting them. Thus, Adler says:
“The road to recovery for America’s imperiled wildlife will not be paved with punitive regulations alone; getting the incentives right to encourage voluntary habitat conservation on private lands must also become a policy priority if endangered species are to thrive once again.”
Adler’s article is just one of several insightful discussions in the PERC Reports issue. Start with Adler’s at: https://perc.org/2023/10/17/failure-to-recover/.
The Florida manatee, listed as a threatened species by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, is pictured above. The image is licensed under Creative Commons BY 2.0.